These birds are in no rush, man.
They’re just getting going on the international front, so even though we might pounce on players who sign for big deals, I’m skeptical of the infrastructure in place to ease those teenagers’ transitions to professional baseball in the states. I’m skeptical of the whole plan, to be honest, given the slow-roasting, historical-losing outcomes we’ve seen so far. If Baltimore can follow the path the Astros and Cubs laid out by being truly abysmal for a half-decade just before the dawn of a successful stretch, the fans will appreciate the end point, assuming any remain. The AL East piece suggests their hands were tied to some extent–that the only path was full-tank with no on-field investments in the pitching or hitting side. I dunno. It’s just tough for me to get super hyped about the big future all these guys might have when we’ve seen what it took to acquire them.
Format: Position Player | Age on 4/1/2022 | Highest level played | ETA
1. C Adley Rutschman | 24 | AAA | 2022
One of Rustchman’s defining traits is his K/BB rate, which has always been pretty close to a 1/1 ratio somewhere in the low teens all the way back to his early college days. A 6’2” 220 lb switch hitter, he doesn’t have to work all that hard in the batter’s box. He does incorporate his base into his swing and generates plenty of power, but it’s a relaxed approach right up to the moment of swing-decision. His fast hands let him wait late into each pitch before firing, so it all looks pretty smooth on the field. In 123 games across the top two minor league levels in 2021, Rutschman slashed .285/.397/.502 with 23 HR, 3 SB, 90 strikeouts and 79 walks.
2. RHP Grayson Rodriguez | 22 | AA | 2022
Rodriguez turned 22 this week on November 16, so wish Grey’s son a happy birthday if you get the chance. Here’s a link to the 2022 Fantasy Outlook Grey wrote about his large adult offspring the other day.
And next we’ll cut to me quoting Grey quoting me talking about Grayson:
“Here’s what Prospect Itch said about Grayson Rodriguez previously, “The 11th overall pick in 2018 stands 6’5” and weighs in at 220 pounds. Considering that he’s wielding five potentially plus pitches and coming up under the former Houston brain trust of Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal, he gives me Forrest Whitley vibes in the best way. I’d love to know if the front office has a similar feel and will try to avoid putting Rodriguez into a two-pitch, cookie-cutter box the way Houston dealt with Whitley’s diverse arsenal. Speaking of cookie-cutter, I’d like to stamp Grey’s head.” Not cool, moving on!
Grayson, which is by the way what I named my actual make-believe son, didn’t stop at two pitches as Itch worried about. He has three plus-pitches (fastball, slider, change) and the curve isn’t shabby. Four plus-pitches is basically: Go take a nap, Mr. Hitter, because Grayson’s gonna strike you out. ACKCHUALLY, three plus-pitches is that too. You don’t need four. You definitely don’t need five. Is Men at Work’s Overkill playing right now? Yes. Grayson’s pitches in GIF form is, “Stop! He’s already dead!” from The Simpsons regarding the hitters he’s facing.”
So, in summary, we like Gray’s son!
3. OF Colton Cowser | 22 | A | 2023
A 6’3” 195 lb plus athlete, Cowser takes an all-fields approach from the left side and clears out his lead hip well enough that he’s got power to the whole park, even if it’s more often doubles to left and homers to right. The 5th overall pick in the 2021 draft, Cowser got into the groove right away, hitting .500 for a week in the complex league before slashing .347/.476/.429 with 1 HR and 4 SB in 25 games in A ball. Rare profile here: double-plus hit with plenty of power, patience and speed to make music across all the categories in just about any setting.
4. SS Gunnar Henderson | 20 | AA | 2023
The number of jokes I leave scattered around the scrap heap of discarded sentence work in compiling these articles might astound you, dear reader. Part of the issue is that I’m not particularly funny. At least not live. I’m a teacher. It’s illegal to be funny in a classroom. That’s a lie. All of it, I hope. Humor is the only way to thrive in the setting. Humor is the Hit Tool of teaching. Or velocity on the pitching side. So you have to try. You might watch 17 jokes NOT LAND on the faces of a hundred people on a given day, but that doesn’t mean you stop trying. The jokes aren’t just for them. They help you find your evenest keel. There’s no easy bridge back to Gunnar Henderson from this moment. Reddit commenters might shoot you down for even trying.
Henderson took aim at a big season early in 2021, blasting eight home runs in his first 35 games at Delmarva (A) and forcing an early promotion. In 65 games with High-A Aberdeen, Henderson rifled nine home runs and stole 11 bases, slashing .230/.343/.432 with a 30.1 percent strikeout rate. Not ideal, but he was 2.9 years younger than the average player at that level, according to Baseball Reference. He was good enough late in the season that he spent the final five games and the playoffs with AA Bowie. All in all, an impressive year by any measure, regardless of the low average and high strikeout rate in High-A, which leveled out a bit as the season wore on.
5. LHP DL Hall | 23 | AA | 2022
I made the IL Hall joke last year, or maybe the year before, I try not to read these as I’m building the following year’s list because it has a tendency to kind of freeze me. I mean there’s only so many ways to say this is a lefthanded pitcher who throws very hard and has great off-speed pitches (curve and change in Hall’s case) but struggles with command and gets hurt a lot. His 2021 season ended in June after seven starts at AA in which he struck out 43.8 percent (15.95 K/9) of the batters he saw. That’s darn near Skubal territory. He also allowed 4.55 walks per nine innings (12.5%), but that’s not a big deal when you’re impossible to hit, and Hall wound up with a 1.01 WHIP and 3.13 ERA. Looks like he’ll be a volatile fantasy asset, like a lot of lefties with big stuff, but patience is a virtue here. His topside is tremendous if he can put together a full, healthy season repeating his delivery.
6. 3B Coby Mayo | 20 | A | 2025
Of everyone on this list, Mayo feels like the best dynasty trade target. The 6’5” 215 lb right-handed hitter has a rare combination of hand speed, foot speed, hand-eye coordination and pitch-recognition for someone so big. Will get some Kris Bryant comps along the way. In 27 games with Low-A Delmarva, Mayo slashed .311/.416/.547 with 5 HR and 5 SB. For 2022, I’m predicting a two-level campaign opening at High-A and ending in AA at age 20, opening 2023 in AAA at 21. That’s me, ahead of myself, getting even further ahead of myself.
7. OF Heston Kjerstad | 23 | NCAA | 2024
Says he’s feeling good, and he’s got a clean bill of health entering 2022, so now might be a good time to inquire about big lefty bat’s availability in your dynasty leagues. He was coming off an incredible 16-game season at Arkansas and posting star-level exit velocities when his journey was waylaid. Here’s a quote from the article linked above:
“I had to see a lot of doctors,” Kjerstad said. “It wasn’t fun. It was pretty taxing mentally because I’m young. I never thought of being sidelined for something of that nature. The Orioles helped me see plenty of great doctors to give me a plan to follow. I followed those steps and was able to make it through. I’m back here playing and feeling great.”
Still a pretty hot button for fantasy purposes, but I think go ahead and draft him in a start-up this year if he falls and falls.
8. SS Jordan Westburg | 23 | AA | 2022
Feels like you’re swinging for a double if rostering Westburg in a dynasty league, but doubles are just fine in a lot of deeper formats, and any decent hitter in Baltimore gets a home-park boost because doubles because homers in the steamy summers at Camden Yards. And I shouldn’t say that about Westburg, anyway. Not fair to characterize him as a double, especially as he’s coming off a great season that saw him cover three minor league levels.
A = 20 games, 3 HR, 5 SB, .366/.484/.592, 188 wRC+
A+ = 62 games, 8 HR, 9 SB, .286/.389/.469, 118 wRC+
AA = 30 games, 4 HR, 3 SB, .232/.323/.429, 103 wRC+
Season = 112 games, 15 HR, 17 SB, .285/.389/.479
I included all this because it’s a quick look at a player finding his level, and a solid developmental design for a player. They identified quickly (wouldn’t take a genius) that Westburg had little to learn at low-A. When he hovered at the 20 percent better than league average mark in High-A for a little while, they moved him along. He wasn’t dominating, but he was definitely good enough to graduate the level. Just anecdotal observation at this point, but it seems much more common for organizations to leave a guy like this at High-A for the final month. I love that Balitmore sent him on to AA, where he looks pedestrian in the slash line but fairly impressive in the wRC+. That he could hold his own at the third level within a single season in the final lap of a long year speaks well of Westburg’s future.
9. OF Hudson Haskin | 23 | A+ | 2023
A 6’2” 200 lb hit tool and speed guy with kind of a goofy swing, Haskin was an interesting pick (39th overall in 2020) for a system stocked up with big power guys who swing and miss a bit. His debut season didn’t set the world alight, but I think it was a resounding success: 83 games across two levels with a .276/.381/.406 slash line to go along with 5 HR and 22 SB. It doesn’t work this way, but you’d be pretty happy with 40 steals from a .380 OBP or .276 BA in your 5×5 leagues, am I right? 17 of those steals came in Low-A with the three-throw-over rule, but he still swiped five in 26 High-A games. The big dream here is he finds a way to turn average raw power into average game power without trading out any of his other traits.
10. LHP Drew Rom | 22 | AA | 2022
Strong set of contenders for this final spot: 2B Connor Norby, OF Kyle Stowers, 2B Terrin Vavra, but I’ll go with the lefty hurler in Drew Rom because I’ve always liked him and he’s always produced, and now he’s in AA with a 1.10 WHIP across 40 innings at the age of 21, and I’m so here for that I’m surprised I didn’t rank him higher. Catch is, he’s a 6’2” 170 lb beanpole who doesn’t throw all that hard. What he does have is plus command and some plus off-speed offerings in a slider and especially his split, which could set him apart coupled with his high-angle release point and ability to repeat.
Thanks for reading!
I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.